Every session brings about change for Hoosiers. Although the word “change” is sometimes perceived negatively, as Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” and I firmly believe that we should continually evaluate how we operate, how our government functions to work towards a better system.
Having gone unchanged since 1977, Indiana’s Criminal Code was in need of a major overhaul, and over the last 35 years, bills altered the code causing duplicate provisions, inconsistency and disproportionality in sentencing to occur.
Providing an example of this, Indiana’s current sentencing guidelines designates that possession with intent to deliver 3 grams of cocaine is categorized as a Class A felony, carrying a sentence of 20 to 50 years. This is more severe than the penalty for rape, a Class B felony carrying, six to 20 years. Although a significant undertaking, it is evident that the code needed to be reviewed, amended and updated.
In 2009, working towards this solution, the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission (CCEC) was established with the intent to do the following: evaluate Indiana’s criminal laws, make criminal penalties more proportionate, increase certainty in sentencing, eliminate any duplicate coding and ensure consistency in the code. With over 1,000 man hours put forth from experts and four years spent reviewing the code; the CCEC submitted a 365 page report outlining the recommended changes.
Those recommendations were analyzed, vetted and compiled into House Bill (HB) 1006 authored by my colleague, Rep. Steuerwald. The bill modernizes the code in many ways such as amending the categorization of felonies. Our current system classifies felonies into four categories A-D. The bill converts ‘A-D’ into six levels, dividing both ‘A’ and ‘B’ into two separate levels while placing murder in a separate category which creates a more accurate classification system.
Coinciding with this change, HB 1006 amends the sentencing guidelines making them more proportionate to fit the crime which also increases judicial discretion in the courtroom. With over half of Indiana’s 28,000 plus prison population serving a sentence for a D felony, this bill ensures that our prison population is made-up of those convicted of truly heinous offenses rather than low-level, non-violent acts. Furthermore, the bill requires offenders to serve 75 percent of their sentence, instead of 50 percent with the current good behavior system, which creates a stronger deterrent against criminal activity.
These are just a few examples of how HB 1006 works to increase consistency in sentencing and proportionality in Indiana’s Criminal Code. Although this bill considerably changes the code and the word “change” is sometimes frowned upon, I truly believe that after the careful analysis of the CCEC these improvements are necessary in meeting the modern needs of our state in working towards a better system.